Tag Archives: siteground

WordPress.org Updates Hosting Recommendations, Nobody Knows Selection Criteria

I've railed about Drupal and WordPress Have Sold Us Out in terms of hosting recommendations before. We've been waiting a long time (around a year now?) for WordPress.org to do it's revamp of its hosting recommendation page.

The Winners

BlueHost, DreamHost, FlyWheel, SiteGround

I'm not shocked at all to see BlueHost somehow still manages to be at the very top (albeit the list is alphabetical). They've continuously survived being listed, I guess that's what a million dollars will do.

Where is the transparency?

They requested hosts submit a ridiculous amount of personal information. You can see the full survey below:

2016 WordPress Hosting Survey - WordPressorg

It asks some deeply private questions like number of employees, how many 30 day active paying customers you have, and how many net paying customers are you gaining or losing each month?

Mind you, as far as anyone can tell, Matt has complete control over who shows up, and Automattic bought the majority stake in a company competing in the WordPress hosting space, Pressable. They also run WordPress.com VIP. They are also an investor in WPEngine. So some of the most secretive numbers a company competing in this space might have are being disclosed potentially to multiple of their biggest competitors through a process with no transparency or even a person named to be responsible for it.

That alone is worrisome for the process, it should definitely be run independent of Matt.

Everything else needs to be explained too. Who is responsible for this revamp? What were the selection criteria? How often will it be updated? Will existing companies be continuously re-evaluated?

wordpress_org_listing

It's not clear who 'we' is. They say listing is arbitrary but then add criteria. I'm not sure they understanding what arbitrary means. Or maybe they simply ignore the criteria they mention. Maybe it's just a terrible joke? Just like the process (or lack thereof) that seems to be in place.

A lot of it is pretty subjective. design, tone, ease of WP auto-install, historical perception? BlueHost is still listed, which is has consistently been pretty poorly reviewed (along with just about all EIG brands) and continues a downward trend.

BlueHost_review_signal_rating_apr_2016

Furthermore, it's the same criteria that's been written since at least 2010.

So maybe saying it's arbitrary gives them as escape to list whomever they want, especially considering the financial considerations involved.

Newly Listed Companies

I tried to find some explanation for how the three new companies were selected, but there really isn't much to go on. DreamHost is a Silver Community Sponsor for WordCamp, but so is GoDaddy who did not make the cut.

FlyWheel only does WordPress, but DreamHost and SiteGround do a lot more.

DreamHost has a ton of forum threads on WordPress.org, SiteGround has only a few over 10 years. FlyWheel has one total.

I talked to someone at one of the newly listed hosted companies and they confirmed that the form was filled out and that was it. Also, there was no financial consideration involved with the listing.

Which is very nice to hear, but doesn't really inspire confidence in the recommendations.

I've aired my concern with BlueHost multiple times.

But what about the new companies and their ratings?

DreamHost has a 59% rating on Review Signal, which is ok, given the upper end of the shared hosting spectrum is SiteGround at 71%. FlyWheel, the specialized hosting company has the highest rating of any company at a whopping 85%.

So the new companies are all far better than BlueHost (41%). But there are other very highly rated companies that didn't make the cut. For example, WP Engine (72%) is probably the biggest  name not listed based on size, brand in the WP community and rating at Review Signal.

Conclusion

I'm glad there are some much better companies than Blue Host listed and at least one of them got there without paying for the privilege. There is still language about some donating a portion of the fee back, which makes you think it's still at least BlueHost.

I'm still unhappy with the lack of transparency of the entire process. The most influential place for people entering the WordPress community is recommending one very mediocre hosting company who has historically paid large sums to be listed and has a deep financial relationship with the person ultimately responsible for the recommendations. The revamp didn't change that.

I am disappointed and I don't expect to hear anything from WordPress.org/Matt clarifying the hosting page, again.

 

UPDATES

(5/13/2016)

There was a little discussion in the WordPress slack. macmanx is James Huff, an Automattic employee. Seems they wanted only 1 managed WordPress host. Other details include around 100 applications. And even in the WordPress slack, the first comment doubts that these are really the best (well, one which almost everyone assumes to be BlueHost).

james_huff_3_outta_4 James_Huff_hosting_recommendations

Free & Discount Web Hosting for Students

There are a handful of very good offers for students. The very best package for student developers is easily the GitHub Student Pack. It includes offers from Amazon, Digital Ocean and Microsoft Azure along with a number of other free tools and services.

There are also a handful of companies that offer discounts and credits for students which may be better suited for non developers. Some of them (e.g. BlueHost) offer cheaper pricing publicly than their student offering regularly during sales and promotions. The student deals may not be as good as they seem.

Company Offer Requirement
GitHub Bonus Amazon AWS Credits ($15), $50 DigitalOcean Credit, Microsoft Azure Credit If you're a student aged 13+ and enrolled in a degree or diploma granting course of study, the GitHub Student Developer Pack is for you. All you need is a school-issued email address, valid student identification card, or other official proof of enrollment
SiteGround $1.99/month .edu address
BlueHost $4.95 .edu address
InMotionHosting 50% off .edu address
Microsoft Azure $200 Credit None
Kickassd 6 Months Hosting School Email + ID

Bonus Offer

NameCheap for Education - Free .ME Domain for US, UK, CAN, AUS universities.

 

Free & Discount Web Hosting for Educators, Teachers and Institutions

 

If you know of any deals that are missing, please comment or contact us to add it to this list.

Header image credit:  Icon made by http://www.flaticon.com/authors/freepik from www.flaticon.com 

Review Signal’s Best Web Hosting Companies in 2015

Another year, another mountain of data added to the largest web hosting review site. This year we added over 49,000 new reviews (a slight increase from the 45,000 last year). We added two new companies in Arvixe and Site5, both of which are now owned by EIG. We published our first WordPress Plugin WPPerformanceTester. WPPerformanceTester was built for our WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks which we performed yet again with our largest batch of companies ever. We even got some outside validation from LiquidWeb which published its internal NPS benchmarks which matched very closely to their Review Signal Rating.

But the year ended on a somewhat sour note with The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange. It tells the story of ASO and how they've played such a huge role on this site. Including winning at least one of these awards every year since inception. But not anymore. So without further ado...

Best Shared Web Host: LiquidWeb [Reviews]

2015-best-shared-hosting-liquidweb

 

Best Web Hosting Support: SiteGround [Reviews]

2015-best-hosting-support-siteground

 

Best Specialty Web Hosting: FlyWheel [Reviews]

2014-best-specialty-flywheel

Best Unmanaged VPS: Digital Ocean [Reviews]

2014-best-unmanaged-vps-digitalocean

Best Managed VPS: LiquidWeb [Reviews]

2015-best-managed-vps-liquidweb

 

For the second year in a row FlyWheel [Reviews] has set the bar in terms of how high a company's rating can be. They won the best specialty web hosting award with their managed WordPress hosting.

For the first time ever someone besides A Small Orange [Reviews] has won the best shared web hosting. A huge congratulations to LiquidWeb [Reviews]! They also managed to pickup the Best Managed VPS hosting award.

Digital Ocean [Reviews] continues its massive growth and popularity, they have won the Best Unmanaged VPS provider for the third year in a row.

Finally, SiteGround [Reviews] returned to our awards and won Best Web Hosting Support, an honor they last received in 2013.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday Web Hosting Deals

These are all the deals from companies we track here at Review Signal that are having Black Friday - Cyber Monday specials.

When? Deals
A Small Orange [Reviews Midnight Friday to 11:59pm Monday All Shared & Business Hosting plans: 75% off any billing cycle. (Coupon code: GIVETHANKS)
All Cloud plans: More resources and free addons! 2x HD & RAM, FREE VIP Boost Addon, FREE Softaculous Addon (No code needed)
Semi-Dedicated Hosting Plans - 25% off any billing cycle. (Coupon code: SEMI14)
Use Code DEDITHX for 45% off Starter Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code STANDARDTHX for 47% off Standard Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code PROTHX for 49% off Professional Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code ULTIMATETHX for 42% off Ultimate Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
BlueHost [Reviews] Friday 12:01am EST to Sunday 11:59pm Pricing as low as $3.49
Monday 12:01am EST to 11:59PM Pricing as low as $2.95
FlyWheel [Reviews] Midnight Friday to 11:59pm Monday 50% off annual hosting plans
Host Gator [Reviews] 12am CST to 1am CST 75% off
1am CST-11:59pm Monday 55% off
Randomly 75% off for 1 hour 9 times from Black Friday-Cyber Monday
Kinsta Friday 0:00 GMT to Monday 23:59 PST 50% off first month
3 months free with annual plan
SiteGround [Reviews] Friday through Monday Up to 70% off
WPEngine [Reviews] Ends 12/2/14 4 months free with annual plan with coupon code 'CyberHosting14'

 

Did I miss any? Leave a comment below.

Managed WordPress Hosting Showdown – Performance Benchmarks Comparison

UPDATE: Round 2 of Testing (November 2014) is now available.

WordPress as a platform has become the most popular CMS around, claiming to power almost 19% of the web. As a result, Managed WordPress hosting has become a very popular niche. Many companies in the managed WordPress space are charging a very high premium over the traditional shared web hosting providers. So beyond the marketing speak, what are you really getting? Most promise to make your life easier with features like automatic updates, backups, and security. They also claim to have great performance. It's hard to test objectively the ease-of-use features. But we can measure performance. There weren't many performance benchmarks that I could find, and the ones I could were not very thorough. So I began by designing my own set of testing.

Companies Tested

A Small Orange* [Reviews]
Digital Ocean [Reviews]
GoDaddy* [Reviews]
Pagely
Pressable*
SiteGround*† [Reviews]
WebSynthesis* [Reviews]
WPEngine [Reviews]

*Company donated an account to test on. I checked to make sure I was on what appeared to be a normal server. GoDaddy had over 3000 domains on the same IP. SiteGround had 887 domains. A Small Orange was a VPS, so it should be isolated. Pressable and WebSynthesis didn't have any accounts on the same IP. I am not sure how isolated they are in their environments.

†Tests were performed with SiteGround's proprietary SuperCacher module turned on fully unless otherwise specified.

The Products

I created a comparison chart of all the companies and the product used in this test. It was mostly the basic/cheapest offer with the exception of SiteGround, because their cheapest hosting plan didn't have full WordPress caching built in, but it was still very much within the price range of other offers.

(Click to see full table)

comparison_chart_web

Methodology

The question I tried to answer is how well do these WordPress hosting services perform? I tested each company on two distinct measures of performance: peak performance and consistency.

1. Blitz.io

Load testing from the most well known load testing service. First test was 60 seconds, from 8 locations each scaling from 1-125 concurrent users (total 1000 users). For this test each one was tested with identical theme (twenty fourteen) and the out of the box configuration. The second test was 60 seconds, from 2 locations (Virginia/California) scaling from 1-1000 (total 2000 users). The configuration of each site was identical with Customizr theme and plugins.

2. Uptime (UptimeRobot and Uptime - a node.js/mongo project)

Consistency matters. I wanted to see how well these companies performed over a longer period of time. I used two separate uptime monitoring services: one existing third party service and one open source project.

3. WebPageTest.org

"WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster." WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. I tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

4. Unnamed Load Testing Service*

This service asked to remain nameless in this article. They do natural load testing and are in beta. I tested each WordPress host with the same theme (twenty fourteen) and the out of the box configuration for this test. I ran into some issues with this service which I will discuss later.

Background Information

Before I go over the results I wanted to explain and discuss a few things. Every provider I tested had the latest version of WordPress installed. Every plugin that came with it was also up to date with the exception of GoDaddy which had an older version of JetPack included (17 days out of date when I first setup).

I had some trouble getting set up on A Small Orange, the signup email was stuck in gmail's spam filter. I also found a potentially minor security issue in their customer system which they promptly responded to and fixed. I also had to specifically ask for the customized WordPress LEMP stack to be installed on my VPS.

GoDaddy stores SFTP and other critical details on a separate area away from your main GoDaddy account and WordPress admin (gateway.godaddy.com for anyone stuck looking).

I ran into issues with Pressable's CNAME redirect. It seemed to cache a coming soon page and didn't resolve itself by clearing any cache I could find. It resolved itself over a day or so, but being stuck with a coming soon page wasn't a pleasant first experience.

SiteGround includes CloudFlare but I never got it working, it failed to configure on www. So I couldn't conduct the test with it enabled.

Pagely charges you extra for SFTP access (which I didn't pay for and made my own life a living hell while trying to do this test).

WebSynthesis came pre-installed with two themes that were out of date.

Results

Blitz.io

 Test 1. 1-125 Concurrent Users from 8 Locations over 60 seconds (Gallery)

 Discussion of Blitz Test 1 Results

The first thing I must note here is that two companies got absolutely destroyed by this test: Digital Ocean and A Small Orange.

My Digital Ocean VPS just died repeatedly. MySql died and needed to be manually restarted. I thought it was a bad instance, so I spun up another and got the same result. I even tried installing a caching plugin to see if I could get any performance out of their WordPress stack. I had absolutely no luck. Given this result, I eliminated Digital Ocean from the rest of my testing. You can run high performance WordPress sites on Digital Ocean (Review Signal's blog is running on one currently), but it requires knowing what you're doing and isn't recommended for people looking for managed WordPress hosting. Digital Ocean is a self-managed VPS provider; it's not for beginners or those who need managed support of their WordPress site. I included Digital Ocean to see how their offer would fare against specialized companies. The short answer is, it doesn't compare, at all.

Another out-of-the-box install with A Small Orange got crushed by this test too. After dconsulting with A Small Orange support, it became apparent I wasn't on their customized WordPress setup. I asked for it to be installed and all further tests were on this much more performant setup. You will see two sets of results for ASO, the normal and the LEMP stack, which is their high performance setup. One thing to note is that ASO offers less management on their customized WordPress setup because it no longer uses cPanel.

The lesson here is that WordPress, out-of-the-box with a LAMP stack, performs pretty badly. For a personal blog with low traffic, it probably won't matter, but for a site with any substantial amount of traffic, it will most likely crumble.

Who performed without any major issues?

A Small Orange (from now on, anytime I talk about ASO, it's about the specialized WordPress setup), Pagely, and SiteGround. Each of these companies had stable response times and few to no errors.

Who had some issues?

GoDaddy had an issue with errors in the middle of the test around 400 users but seemed to gracefully scale upwards without any difficulty and maintained steady load times and stopped erroring. Pressable's response times were a bit varied. Pressable didn't seem to have much trouble with the traffic because it had zero errors and minimal timeouts. WPEngine seemed to have a weird connection timeout issue around 600 users that resolved itself fairly quickly. WebSynthesis seemed to cap out at around 400 users/second with a few bursts. The response time remained steady and it was erroring (connection reset) instead of timing out. WebSynthesis support told me "We analyzed the logs on the server and some of your requests are not being cached as your tests are throwing over 14K symbols in a single URL. This is not realistic for normal use cases of WordPress." Nevertheless, they made a tweak to the nginx (webserver) config, and I tested it again in test 2.

Test 1. Quick Results Table

Success Errors Timeouts Avg Hits/second Avg Response (ms)
ASO 23788 18 2 396 241
GoDaddy 23962 165 0 399 227
Pagely 20132 1 0 336 459
Pressable 21033 0 19 351 412
SiteGround 19672 0 0 328 495
WebSynthesis 19995 4224 5 333 246
WPEngine 20512 192 196 342 395

GoDaddy, despite their small hiccups, managed to have the best average response time to 8 servers distributed across 5 continents (Virginia, Oregon, California, Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Ireland). Furthermore, they also managed to serve the most hits.

SiteGround had the slowest average response and lowest hits/second but also didn't have a single error or timeout and the response was consistent throughout the test.

A Small Orange's performance was stunningly consistent. The fastest response was 238ms and the slowest was 244ms, a difference of 6ms over nearly 24,000 requests. They were just barely behind GoDaddy in hits and average response.

Overall, other than WebSynthesis, no host seemed to have serious difficulty with this test.

 

 Test 2. 1-1000 Concurrent Users from 2 Locations over 60 seconds (Gallery)

Discussion of Blitz Test 2 Results

This test was designed to see just how much traffic these web hosts can handle. Blitz increased their pricing for multiple server locations while I was running this test. I had to reduce server locations from 8 down to 2 locations with higher user counts instead. The response times may be less meaningful, but I picked Virginia and California so that the test locations were on opposite sides of the US. I believe every server tested was in the US, so hopefully that was somewhat balanced, but the average response time may mean less than the stability of the response time.

Who performed without any major issues?

Pagely.

Who had some issues?

A Small Orange's setup definitely couldn't scale all the way up. Response times started increasing with increased users as did errors/timeouts. GoDaddy had some bizarre spikes that look similar to the one I saw in test 1, except three of them this time. Despite this, they pushed the most successful hits again and had the best ping of hosts that didn't completely error out. Pressable had some spikey performance similar to GoDaddy. Pressable pushed a lot of successful requests and did recover from the spikes. SiteGround hit a major spike but then seemed to kick into high gear and performed even better and finished out the test exceptionally strong and stable. WebSynthesis seemed to cap out at around 400 users/second with a few bursts again. The response time remained fairly steady and it was erroring (connection reset) instead of timing out again. WPEngine's response times got worse as the load increased and timeouts started to increase as well.

I included a screenshot from my uptime monitoring system. It's checking each host every 5 seconds, and I highlighted the hour in which all the tests took place. You can see some large spikes for companies that seemed to have latency struggles.

 

Test 2. Quick Results Table

Success Errors Timeouts Hits/second Avg Response (ms) Max Hit Rate (per second)
ASO 27057 777 518 451 739 597
GoDaddy 49711 685 1 829 148 1750
Pagely 48228 0 1 804 216 1580
Pressable 43815 503 9 730 271 1466
SiteGround 48735 12 19 812 263 1708
WebSynthesis 20855 35773 0 348 120 763
WPEngine 39784 25 1008 663 304 1149

GoDaddy seemed to have the best peak performance again. SiteGround and Pagely seemed to handle the load fantastically and didn't show any signs of performance issues (again). With the exception of A Small Orange, every host saw an improvement in average response time. As I wrote earlier, this may be because they were tested only from US locations. That caveat aside, the response times are a lot closer together and look pretty good for US based visitors. Still, this test also started to raise questions about many web hosts' ability to handle a heavy traffic load.

WebSynthesis Response to ECONNRESET Errors

WebSynthesis ran into the same issue in both tests, a strange ECONNRESET error. Suspecting something may be blocking the test requests' as a security measure, I asked them to investigate. They made a change to their nginx config after the initial set of testing and wrote back "we made adjustments to handle the types of URLs you were hitting us with.  We did review our logs and do not see these in production thus will not put these kinds of changes in production as we feel they are unrealistic." Here are the results:

WebSynthesis2-blitz WebSynthesis2 (Download Full Report WebSynthesis2.pdf)

The new WebSynthesis results were pretty impressive. Average ping of 123ms (3ms slower than initial test), 871 hits/second average, 1704 hits/second and with only 94 errors (ECONNRESET again). The original tests did not suggest that either the hardware or software was starting to buckle. But the configuration change does indicate that they were probably blocking some of the requests. Load testing tools can't fully emulate users (they generally come from only a couple of machines) and it's conceivable that some security measures are triggered by their unusual behavior. Since I am testing these companies out of the box, I am leaving this result separate where support got involved and changed configuration settings.

Uptime

What is often more important than peak performance is how well a service does on average. To test this, I used two services: UptimeRobot and a NodeJS project called Uptime.

UptimeRobot Results

Monitored HTTP and Ping every 5 minutes. This was over a 10 day span.

HTTP Ping
ASO 1 1
GoDaddy 0.9979 -
Pagely 0.9862 -
Pressable 0.9995 1
SiteGround 0.9993 1
WebSynthesis 1 1
WPEngine 1 1

A Small Orange, WebSynthesis and WPEngine showed no downtime. Every server responded to pings 100% of the time with the exception of GoDaddy and Pagely which seemed to be blocking pings to the server (at least from UptimeRobot).

Pagely's downtime was mostly my own doing (3 hours), when I was editing a template  to use some of these testing services. Only 5 minutes of the downtime was unrelated to that incident.

GoDaddy had 28 minutes of downtime. SiteGround had 9 minutes. Pressable had 5 minutes.

When you account for my screwup, only GoDaddy shows up under the 99.9% uptime threshold.

Uptime (nodejs) Results

Uptime was configured to perform an HTTP check every 5 seconds on each host with a 1500ms slow threshold. This was executed from a Digital Ocean VPS in NYC.

Responsiveness is defined as the percentage of pings above slow threshold over the period. Availability is the uptime percentage.

Availability (%) Downtime (m) Response Time (ms) Responsiveness (%)
ASO 99.998 1 204 99.97
GoDaddy 99.963 17 309 99.679
Pagely 99.998 1 237 99.974
Pressable 99.914 39 727 90.87
SiteGround 99.997 1 206 99.616
WebSynthesis 99.994 3 97 99.727
WPEngine 99.965 16 209 99.819

Nobody had a perfect record although four companies (A Small Orange, Pagely, SiteGround and WebSynthesis) were above the 99.99% uptime marker. The rest were still all above 99.9%. The most worrisome result was Pressable because they had the most downtime and a very high average response time. This might be caused by the monitoring server being far away from their server. Below is a detailed graph of the response times:

pressable_response_time

The lowest ping I saw was around 172ms and the relatively consistent bottom line of pings at around 300ms is reasonable. However, inconsistent performance with high spikes results in a very high average. Every other company had a fairly smooth graph in comparison. They show an occasional spike and/or some small variance (<100ms) between response at the base line, but nobody came close to a graph like Pressable's. The next most interesting is A Small Orange's graph:

aso_response_time

Though within reasonable response times, it has a spike and a weird pattern bouncing between around 170ms and 270ms.

Giving Pressable the benefit of the doubt, I signed up for Pingdom and monitored what their service saw. This was done with 1 minute resolution.pressable_pingdom_uptime

pressable_pingdom

 

The pings varied pretty wildly, the highest being 2680ms and lowest 2150, a 530ms difference. And that was based on hourly averages; the variance within each hour may have been much greater. It would seem to corroborate the results from the Uptime script I was running, i.e. performance fluctuates a lot.

 

WebPageTest.org

Every test was run with the settings: Chrome Browser, 9 Runs, native connection (no traffic shaping), first view only. This was tested against the default install from every company. I also tested SiteGround's multiple levels of their SuperCache technology from one location to see how much it improved performance. SuperCache was left on for all the other tests performed. You will also notice the original A Small Orange and the WordPress optimized LEMP stack. Digital Ocean hadn't completely failed out at this point yet either.

Company Dulles,VA (s) Miami, FL (s) Denver, CO (s) Los Angeles, CA (s) Average Load (s)
A Small Orange 1.894 2.035 2.381 1.648 1.9895
ASO Lemp 0.85 0.961 1.056 0.665 0.883
Digital Ocean 1.245 0.95 1.419 0.924 1.1345
GoDaddy 0.94 1.208 1.229 0.671 1.012
Pressable 0.642 1.174 1.721 0.981 1.1295
SiteGround 1.073 1.327 1.682 1.353 1.35875
SiteGround (Varnish Dynamic Cache) 0.732
SiteGround (Varnish Dynamic Cache, Memcached) 0.725
SiteGround (PageSpeed, Memcached) 1.216
WPEngine 0.812 1.235 1.06 1.08 1.04675
Pagely 0.924 1.083 1.46 0.748 1.05375
WebSynthesis 0.616 1.021 1.516 1.116 1.06725

You can see a huge performance difference in A Small Orange's default cPanel install and their optimized LEMP stack. Load times were reduced by more than half from every location. That should convince you that optimizing WordPress can dramatically improve performance. To a lesser degree, you can see it happen when SiteGround's various SuperCache options are turned on.

A Small Orange's LEMP stack leads the pack here. However, it's amazing how close the performance of most of these companies was on this test.

 

Conclusion

Every service seems to have their issues somewhere. I try to avoid injecting my personal opinion and bias as much as possible. So I won't be ranking or outright saying any single company is the best. Some providers did exceptionally well and tended to clump together performance-wise, I will call those the top tier providers. This top tier designation is related to performance only and from the results of these tests. What each of these companies is offering is different and may best suit different audiences depending on a variety of factors beyond performance, such as features, price, support, and scale (I only tested entry level plans). But I will provide a short summary and discussion of the results for each provider.

A Small Orange

Once I moved away from the stock WordPress install on a normal VPS to their specialized LEMP WordPress VPS, it was a much better experience. Their uptime was near perfect on both services (1 minute of downtime total measured between them). The first load test it performed incredibly well and was 2nd by only a few requests per second. However, ASO did buckle under the heavier load test but it didn't fail out and managed to respond to most requests (including uptime monitoring) during the whole event. While their performance didn't scale as well as most of the competitors, I did receive a lot of support from them and it was quite responsive, in-line with what I would expect from a company that has one of the highest support ratings.

Digital Ocean

They are not in the same business as the rest of these companies. I added them because I wanted to see how well a stock install of WordPress would compete with pretty good hardware that's low cost (SSD backed VPS). The results here aren't a knock on their service at all. As I said earlier, this blog is running on a Digital Ocean VPS. The difference is I have spent many hours configuring it myself to be somewhat high performance. Digital Ocean is designed for people who can administrate their own servers. If you need managed WordPress hosting, stick to companies that are managing WordPress for you. If you're comfortable and want to do it yourself, these guys have one of the highest rated companies that we track.

GoDaddy

This whole test started from a statement made by Jeff King, a senior vice president at GoDaddy and GM of their hosting division. He wrote to me, "The new products are top of the market (really, you can’t get faster WordPress anywhere now) and we’re just beginning."  Challenge accepted.

GoDaddy surprised me, and in a good way. They have a pretty bad reputation in the web community and it shows on this site where their overall score is below 50%. Yet, their WordPress hosting kept up or led the pack in some of the performance tests. In both Blitz.io load tests, out-of-the-box, GoDaddy had the highest number of successful requests, the highest number of concurrent users, and either 1st or 2nd in average response time.  (WebSynthesis's performance did beat them when their support investigated connection resets) There were some weird performance bumps during the load tests, but nothing major. The biggest blot in terms of performance was on their uptime. They had the most downtime (28 minutes) of any of the companies tracked in UptimeRobot's monitoring (which ran longer than my second Uptime monitoring setup). But it was still 99.8% uptime, not a huge knock.

Overall, I would say GoDaddy delivered on their claim, performance wise. They appear to be in the top tier of specialized WordPress hosting companies. Given their price, I think they have the potential to push down pricing on most of their competitors who charge 3-4 times what GoDaddy charges. If we take a more holistic view, beyond performance, they still don't have all the tools to cater to the different niches that the specialized companies are competing for (although there were some hints dropped that things like Git, Staging Environments and more were coming soon). And then there is a branding problem they are trying to overcome. But GoDaddy is definitely doing some things very right and should make the managed WordPress hosting space very interesting.

Pagely

Pagely's performance didn't ever seem to get affected by any tests. They had a mere 5 minutes of downtime. The load testing services never seemed to cause any stress on their system. It was an impressively consistent performance. They didn't have the highest peak performance on the load tests, but they had a flat response time and only a single error or timeout in each blitz load test. One thing that irritated me about their offer was charging extra for SFTP access. Every other company included this for free and it's generally a given with a web hosting service. Still, a very impressive performance by Pagely, they are definitely in the top tier.

Pressable

Pressable had some issues during this test. I am not sure why but there was a very strange issue where performance seemed to repeatedly spike throughout my entire testing session. When it was good, it was performing at a level consistent with the top tier providers. The problem was, it wasn't always good. On the large Blitz load test there was consistent performance except for two spikes, which put it behind the front of the pack. It caused low responsiveness scores and potentially some downtime calculations as well. The foundation of a top tier provider is there, and generously open sourced on GitHub. They just need to sort out this weird performance spikiness issue.

SiteGround

Another very pleasant surprise in SiteGround. Not only are you getting cPanel hosting, you're getting top tier WordPress performance once you fully enable their SuperCacher plugin. They are one of the most well liked companies we track and have some of the best rated support. I honestly didn't know they were offering such high performance WordPress hosting. They didn't have the absolute fastest responses or push the highest concurrent users but they kept pace. They had one of the stranger graphs on the heavy load test, for some reason the performance got even better after a big spike. They had excellent uptime at above 99.9% measured by both services. Like GoDaddy, SiteGround looks like they could make this space interesting with a $7.95 plan performing on par with plans 3-4x its cost. While I didn't get to try some of the more developer-centric features like a staging environment and Git, they are available on a plan that's as little as 50% of the cost of the competitors at $14.95. Definitely in the top tier of managed WordPress providers.

WebSynthesis

These guys are harder to evaluate. Their uptime was excellent: either perfect or upwards of 99.9% as measured by the two services. The load testing ran into a weird ECONNRESET error. Their support was very helpful and made some configuration changes that seemed to allow the load testing service through. Once they did that, they outperformed every provider on almost every metric, highest average hits/second, fastest response and most successful hits with relatively flat response times. As I wrote in my discussion about them, load testing tools aren't a perfect emulation of real users. But it looked like it was running into a security rule rather than actual strain on the service. If that assumption is correct, these guys are truly a top tier provider.

WPEngine

WPEngine had some issues. Uptime was not one of them, they were perfect or upwards of 99.9% in that department. However, their performance shortcomings became apparent during the load tests. They had the most errors and timeouts, besides WebSynthesis, in the first test and seemed to buckle under the load in the second test with rising errors and timeouts and slower response times. When WPEngine was first listed here on Review Signal, they had the highest rating of any company. They've fallen a bit since then but WPEngine still remains near the front of the pack. They have a strong brand and seem to be doing some things right. They have some features that few other providers have, but this test was mostly about performance. In that department, they didn't quite match the level of performance that some of their competitors reached.

 

 

 Product Comparison Chart with Coupon Codes

 

 

Notes:

*Unnamed Load Testing Service

AVG Response Failures AVG Response Heavy
ASO 2031 No
GoDaddy 2120 No 5904
Pagely 2398 No
Pressable 1360 No 15570
SiteGround 22659 Yes 25712
WebSynthesis 1929 No 3740
WPEngine 1835 No

I didn't get to conduct a full test with this service because I may have caused the entire service to crash during testing. This table is showing 2 tests, on average response and whether failures occurred (any type of failures). The second test is what caused the service to crash and is incomplete. The first test was 500 users/second from 1 machine and the second was 8000 users/second from 40 machines. The response times were pretty slow all around, and SiteGround seemed to have some major issues with this test. I am unsure as to why, I re-ran the first test again later and it seemed to handle it without any failures (errors) on the second run. The testing system is in beta and it's really hard to know what happened. SiteGround seemed to handle Blitz's heavier test without issue and the second test here went fine. Hard to know if there was really an issue on SiteGround's end or the testing service. The heavy test was interesting, WebSynthesis ended up being the fastest which is a similar result to the Blitz.io test once they fixed the nginx config. Perhaps this load test wasn't triggering any of their security measures? I could not complete the testing because the system went down prematurely.

I am not sure if there are useful inferences to be drawn from these tests. I was asked not to name the service because of the issues encountered but I wanted to include the partial results here in case someone did find some value in looking at the numbers.

I actually tried a third load testing service that was also in beta and it never was able to fully run the tests either. I am starting to feel like load testing kryptonite.

Thank You

First off, I want to thank the companies that agreed to participate voluntarily. I had nothing but pleasant experiences dealing with the people at each company. A few even took it a step beyond and offered a lot of help and insight about how this test might be conducted. There was a surprising amount of consistency of views about what and how to measure performance offered. A few of the individuals who stood out the most:

David Koopman at GoDaddy for his insights on performance and testing.

Vid Luther at Pressable was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about performance. He's even written a great article here about performance. He also helped get at least one other company on board for testing and for that, I am thankful as well.

Tina Kesova at Siteground has always been helpful and this test was no exception. She had SiteGround on board almost instantly when I just mentioned the seed of the idea back in November 2013.

A few friends of mine also helped in figuring out how to perform these tests and dealing with some of the technical challenges in benchmarking. Dave Lo, Eric Silverberg and Samuel Reed all offered their advice and helped me make the design of the tests as fair as possible.

A special thanks goes to people who read drafts of this article and provided feedback including Andrey Tarantsov, JR Harrel and my dad.

Anyone else I missed, I am sorry, and thank you too.

 

The Best Web Hosts of 2013 – Reflections and Awards

2013 was the first full year of operation for Review Signal. It has been an exciting year and a successful year. We've added roughly 90,000 new reviews in 2013. We added two new companies this year. One was a company we struggled with to get listed because of their vast size and scope: Amazon. The other has been possibly the fastest growing new web hosting company of 2013: Digital Ocean. While proud that we added these two companies, it isn't enough. We're tracking over one hundred companies and there are a more that should be added soon. Adding a new company does take some extra work, but we need to find that time and make sure it gets done. Without further ado...

The Best Web Hosting Companies of 2013

Best Shared Web Host: A Small Orange

asmallorange best shared webhost

Best Web Hosting Support: SiteGround

siteground best hosting support

Best Unmanaged VPS Provider: Digital Ocean

digitalocean best unmanaged vps

Best Managed VPS Provider: A Small Orange

asmallorange best managed vps

A Small Orange continues to be the top web host that offers a broad range of hosting options. It was only beat out by newcomer, Digital Ocean, which provides very specific unmanaged SSD backed VPSes. And SiteGround is a new comer to our best of the year category. They eked out a less than 1% edge over A Small Orange in support rating. We would like to congratulate all of these companies on an excellent 2013 and hope that they continue their stellar performance in 2014.

I would also like to thank Cat Robinson for designing this year's awards. My favorite part of working with her was 'I don't know what a cute symbol is for VPS provider.' Me either. Thank you Cat.

*The way these scores were calculated were the same as last year. We only look at data collected in the 2013 calendar year, so there may be some differences in what you see on the site live, which keeps all data from all years versus this years rankings.

Black Friday Web Hosting Deals

Since there are some huge sales going on this weekend, I thought I would compile the list and share them here. They are sorted alphabetically by company.

A Small Orange [Reviews] - Coupon Codes Available Only Black Friday and Cyber Monday (EST)

'GOBBLE13' - 50% off shared, business, reseller (first invoice, all billing cycles)

'TREAT13' 50% off add-ons

'CHEER13' - 35% off Hybrid/Dedicated

2x RAM on Cloud VPS

BlueHost [Reviews] - $3.95/month

Digital Ocean [Reviews] - Coupon Code 'BLACK50' $50 Free Credit

DreamHost [Reviews] - 80% Off Through Monday

Host Gator [Reviews] - 60% Off with 75% Off Fire Sales (times listed below)

All Times in CST (GMT-6)

Friday 12AM - 1AM, 9AM - 11AM,  9PM - 11PM

Saturday 12PM - 1PM

Sunday 8PM - 9PM

Monday 12AM - 1AM, 10AM - 12AM, 10PM - 11:59PM

HostMonster [Reviews] - $3.95 per month Black Friday - Cyber Monday

JustHost [Reviews]- $2.25/month

MediaTemple [Reviews] - 75% off Grid / DV First Month

SiteGround [Reviews]- 70% Off Through Monday

WPEngine [Reviews] - 33% off Annual Plan Black Friday - Cyber Monday

'cyberhostspecial13' - 4 months free when signing up for annual plan.

Interview: How to Re-Brand a Web Hosting Company with SiteGround’s Lilyana Yakimova

I recently had the chance to talk with Lilyana Yakimova, the Director of Marketing at SiteGround about their new branding. A few months ago, SiteGround underwent a major brand overhaul and I thought it would be interesting to learn how a large web hosting company, with over 250,000 domain names hosted, approaches such a challenge.

How has the web hosting market changed since SiteGround launched in 2004? How do you think it will evolve over the next 5 years?

Many things have happened during the last 10 years. We have seen many companies in the hosting industry rise and fall, we have witnessed the silent gathering of large number of previously independent companies under the ownership of a single organization, as most other businesses we also felt the growing role of the social media. But I think that the most important thing that have changed over the years and that has a huge impact on the shared hosting industry is the ease with which one can build a website today. With the rise of the free application like WordPress and Joomla, and the appearance of many affordable hosted website building solutions the number of people that are able to create their own web site is skyrocketing. I see this as a long lasting trend, which the web hosting companies will have to take into consideration while planning the next few years as well.

SG before after

SiteGround Before (Left) and After (Right) Re-Branding

What events led up to SiteGround's rebranding process? Could you walk through how you approached the rebranding problem?

During the years we have managed to gather a very cool team of enthusiastic and extremely geeky people. Thanks to them SiteGround became one of the few in the shared hosting industry to invent its own technologies. These technologies help us achieve better quality than what is possible with the massively used ready-made solutions. To give you a small example how geeky we actually are, at some point back then, when most of the competitors rarely used server monitoring system or were extremely proud when their servers were checked once each few minutes, we came up with our own solution that checks if everything is OK twice per second. At this time this was 120 time faster than the fastest possible for the others!

This approach led to the fact that we built multiple technological innovations. However, the image of our company was completely indistinguishable from the other players on the market. We had a website that looks like all the others, our own customers were not aware of the innovations we have implemented, and as a whole no one outside the company knew what we actually do and how good it is. So this growing gap between what we really were and what we presented to the world was the main reason for the rebranding decision.

The first step, to show the world who we are, was to start using actively our blog and social media (FaceBook mainly). This was the easiest way to reach our customers, make a more personal contact with them, tell them our stories and turn some of them from users into followers. We also started attending and sponsoring many events and this was a great opportunity to spread our story even further. By the reactions we have seen on these events we knew that we are on the right track. We also changed our approach to launching new technologies. Instead of silently putting in place what we have developed, we started to create advertising and informational launch campaigns. For example, when the SuperCacher was implemented, we created a blog post, an easy-to-understand inforgraphic, detailed tutorial, informational emails for the customers and more. All of the things described above were part of our re-branding effort, though they happened long before the the website and logo redesign. Now we have completed visually the process and we have a clear general message to guide all our future communication activities too.

 

What is the message you are trying to communicate and who is your target audience?

The main message we wanted to communicate better was that SiteGround is a cool and technologically advanced company, which has a very unusual approach to doing things that differs from what most of the other players in our segment do. We chose to build this message around the idea of being hand-crafted as opposed to being a product of the mass production.

The shared hosting, where we compete, is the most massively used service in our industry. My favorite way to describe what we wanted to achieve with the rebranding is by using a restaurant business allusion. We and our competitors were like the fast food chains. With the rebranding we did not aim to change the segment we compete at. We are not aiming to turn from a hamburger shop to a classy French restaurant; actually we are more after the image of a boutique sandwich shop. What we sell is still a sandwich, but the bread is baked in our own oven, the lettuce is grown in our garden and as a whole what we give you is much better for you than what the mass-market competitors provide. By changing the image we aim to speak better to the same audience and attract more of the people looking for shared hosting, as they will see us as something better, no as one of many. We also aim to capture some of the audience that was previously ignoring the whole segment, as being too low, but can now see something valuable in the shared hosting too.

How do you handle negative feedback on social media and other public forums?

I strongly believe that no feedback is bad if you handle it properly. Actually, we have received some negative reactions during the rebranding process. Some of them have helped us correct some issues before launching the new site and logo, other helped us learn how to communicate change more efficiently. I think that the most important rule for handling negative feedback is to ignore emotions and get to the essence. I have learned that no matter how rude someone has been in stating his or her opinion, and no matter how much you do not liked it at the beginning, if you strip away the emotions you can usually find a valid point that can be addressed to make things better.

Do you think the rebranding has been a success and how do you measure that?

The marketing strategy we currently follow is definitely successful. The measurement is easy – since we started it we see a steady and growing increase in sales volume and revenue. However, the success is not achieved by simply changing the logo, adding a new message and re-designing the website. The strategy to start communicating more effectively our strong sides has started long before the re-design. Truth is that the visual change of the website was the climax of this rebranding and definitely led to most visible results. However, if there was no solid ground for the new message and if we have not started to gradually change the perception of the people before the redesign, the rebranding would not have been so successful.

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to/at SiteGround?

The luckiest thing that has ever happened and continues to happen each day is the fact that there are so many awesome people, who choose to work at SiteGround.

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Meet The Host: SiteGround We take a picture tour through SiteGround's facilities.

I Am Free To Do Whatever I Want! Will Your WordPress Host Agree With That?

Guest Post from Lilyana Yakimova, Marketing Director of SiteGround | SiteGround Reviews

When it comes to freedom, WordPress users seem really blessed. Not only they can extend their website almost infinitely with the help of thousands of WordPress themes and plugins, but they are also free to choose among more hosting options than anyone else. The range is really wide: starting from the free service at wordpress.com, going through all the standard shared web hosts*, which are perfectly compatible with WordPress, and ending with a number of managed hosts** that are highly specialized in WordPress only. There are many articles comparing the prices, the speed, or the reliability of the WordPress hosts, but what is seldom talked about is how the different hosting options compare in terms of website management freedom they give to the user.

What affects the level of freedom allowed by a WordPress host?

The easy, but not completely correct answer is that account management freedom depends on the price. Of course it is only natural that if you use a completely free service like wordpress.com, you will be limited in some ways. You will not be able to install all themes and plugins you want, or you will not be able to use your own domain, or you will not be able to call someone 24/7 to report a problem.

However, when it comes to paid hosting solutions the correlation between the price and the freedom is not so straightforward. Quite often you can do more things on a standard and cheaper host, than on a more expensive managed host. For example, you can easily get access to MySQL, 24/7 phone support, additional hosting services like email, SSH etc. on a general host, while at strictly managed WordPress hosts some or all of these features are missing. In addition, most standard hosts do not place any limitations on which WordPress versions you may host or what plugins you can add, while managed hosts often force the newest WordPress version on all of their users websites and completely ban certain plugins.

So why is there such a discrepancy? Managed WordPress hosts would probably argue that the real price of the freedom is the level of your website security. They will claim that if they are to take full responsibility for your website security, you should sacrifice some of your freedom in return. On the other hand, the standard shared hosts will leave most of the responsibility in your own hands and when something goes bad, it will be blamed on your decision to use a vulnerable plugin or your failure to upgrade your application.

So what do you choose - freedom or security? And can’t you have both?

It seems that it all comes down to the good old question: how much freedom you are willing to sacrifice in the name of security? Well I believe that in the WordPress hosting world there is a reasonable middle ground.

Let’s take, for example, the auto-upgrades. The WordPress managed host will normally upgrade compulsory all their users, whenever a new WordPress version is released. Most standard shared hosts, on the other hand, would do nothing and their customers may never realize that an important security update is released and that an upgrade is now due. A good middle ground host can do better. It can still be proactive, by providing automatic upgrade to its customers and informing them about each new version released, and, at the same time, it can be more democratic by allowing its users a way out of the auto upgrades. Thus people that would like to take over the upgrade process themselves can easily do so.

Another interesting security case is when vulnerability appears in a plugin used by the host customers. The easiest way to protect efficiently all your users, applied by WordPress managed hosts, is to simply disable all instances of the plugin installed. However, thus a functionality chosen by your users will be taken away from their websites. The contrary approach is to let the users add any plugin and deny, as a host, to take any responsibility for their choices. A good middle ground host will again look for a different way around. It will work on a solution that will fix the vulnerability on a server level. Thus it will take care of the security without punishing the user for a flaw in a plugin code, for which the user was most probably not even aware of. Of course this scenario is efficient when the host is always on top of the security and is able to provide a patch for the vulnerability almost immediately after it has been disclosed.

So to conclude: you probably can never be totally free and totally safe at the same time. However, when it comes to your WordPress hosting, I believe that you should not be forced to sacrifice too much from either your freedom or security, as in most of the situations there is a reasonable middle ground.

------

*Examples of standard shared hosts companies: HostGator, BlueHost, DreamHost, etc.

**Examples of popular managed WordPress hosts: WPEngine, ZippyKid, Page.ly

Meet The Host: SiteGround

This is the first post in our Meet The Host series. The idea is to let consumers see both the human side as well as the hardware side of the web hosting businesses through pictures.

Meet SiteGround (Website | Reviews)

SiteGround was founded in 2004. Today, it has 100 employees and over 250,000 domain names hosted. SiteGround also has three data centers in Chicago, Amsterdam and Singapore where their customers websites are hosted.

Quote from the Host:

What really makes the difference is our unique team and company culture. I am extremely proud to be part of a team that I can openly call a family - coming to the office doesn’t feel like coming to work, but coming to see friends with which we do fantastic things together.  Everyone is extremely helpful, knowledgeable and highly professional. Besides enjoying our great office, we also spend time together at company supported vacations, teambuilding and office parties.

- Tina Kesova, SiteGround

Photo Gallery:

The SiteGround office features open space, modern and relaxing atmosphere with more than 50 square feet of space per employee to foster creativity.

The SiteGround office features open space, modern and relaxing atmosphere with more than 50 square feet of space per employee to foster creativity.

This is where the technical masterminds live - the corner that hosts SiteGround software operations and senior support engineers.

This is where the technical masterminds live - the corner that hosts SiteGround software operations and senior support engineers.

 

The software developers work closely with the customer service teams to implement client feature requests.

The software developers work closely with the customer service teams to implement client feature requests.

SiteGround crew are real beer lovers too. A rare beer collection decorates the devs corner.

SiteGround crew are real beer lovers too. A rare beer collection decorates the devs corner.

 

The SiteGround HQ has 7 conference rooms to host meetings, trainings or day-to-day brainstorming sessions and welcome company partners and guests.

The SiteGround HQ has 7 conference rooms to host meetings, trainings or day-to-day brainstorming sessions and welcome company partners and guests.

Half of the SiteGround office is a big recreation area where SG folks play different kinds of games to relax and build even further the great team spirit that makes SiteGround what it really is – one of the friendliest hosting companies!

Half of the SiteGround office is a big recreation area where SG folks play different kinds of games to relax and build even further the great team spirit that makes SiteGround what it really is – one of the friendliest hosting companies!

The game and recreation area allows people to play foosball, table tennis, darts, pool table, and more.

The game and recreation area allows people to play foosball, table tennis, darts, pool table, and more.

 

SiteGround invests in the education and professional growth of their employees and provides free books and a library area where SG team members can sit down and read in a quiet area.

SiteGround invests in the education and professional growth of their employees and provides free books and a library area where SG team members can sit down and read in a quiet area.

 

The SiteGround team knows how to party and never misses a chance to get together and celebrate big company milestones. Then, the office becomes a party corner that can even host casino games.

The SiteGround team knows how to party and never misses a chance to get together and celebrate big company milestones. Then, the office becomes a party corner that can even host casino games.

 

Each year the company organizes a teambuilding where all employees get together in informal surroundings to build further the team spirit.

Each year the company organizes a teambuilding where all employees get together in informal surroundings to build further the team spirit.

 

Working hard, partying hard! Besides building reliable hosting platforms and climbing high peaks at teambuildings, the SiteGround people know how to have fun together.

Working hard, partying hard! Besides building reliable hosting platforms and climbing high peaks at teambuildings, the SiteGround people know how to have fun together.

Amsterdam Data Center - A power distribution unit (PDU) and a standard row of cabinets, full of SiteGround servers.

Amsterdam Data Center - A power distribution unit (PDU) and a standard row of cabinets, full of SiteGround servers.

Chicago Data Center - The Chicago datacenter is organized into computer rooms like this, each one being about 30,000 square feet in size. The SiteGround servers reside in rooms like this one.

Chicago Data Center - The Chicago datacenter is organized into computer rooms like this, each one being about 30,000 square feet in size. The SiteGround servers reside in rooms like this one.

Singapore Data Center - The Singapore layouts are designed to allow the most dense population on the row possible, while ensuring rack power availability allows for full failover.

Singapore Data Center - The Singapore layouts are designed to allow the most dense population on the row possible, while ensuring rack power availability allows for full failover.

Singapore Data Center - Redundant APC power strips provide power to SiteGround dual-path servers.

Singapore Data Center - Redundant APC power strips provide power to SiteGround dual-path servers.

A large thank you goes to Tina at SiteGround who helped collect and caption the photos for this post. I hope you enjoyed our first edition of our Meet The Host series.